PRESIDENT Granger has made education his signature policy proposal, going into the 2020 elections. Whatever the occasion, he finds a way to inject his ideas and plans for education. This is, of course, very refreshing at a time when political leaders tend to privilege economics as an end itself. Granger discusses education as a means to various ends, including social mobility and economic liberation. His is a holistic intervention; he brings to the issue a passion born out of the personal experience and political vision. He is not talking simply about education reform, but about a new and revolutionary education trajectory.
The president has already promised the return of free university education, should the Coalition be re-elected. This is a timely and sensible move. Those who are old enough would remember the success of the previous incarnation of this policy. Many of those who today occupy the top echelons of the professions can trace their mobility back to the introduction of free education, from nursery to university. Indeed, many of those persons came from underprivileged backgrounds. Societies like Guyana need more, not less, education, but it also needs expanded access to that education at the highest levels.
Of course, free university education must mean an upgrading of the quality of education. Some have argued that the institution of free education would lead to a further decline in the quality of education. They contend that when students don’t have to pay for education, they tend to take it for granted. We do not believe this to be universally true. However, it is imperative that care is taken to ensure that this does not materialise. It is possible to have a subsidised education that is of the highest quality.
There has been much debate about the state of tertiary education in Guyana. The unions and the student body have bemoaned the myriad problems at the Turkeyen campus of the University of Guyana. The lack of adequate wages for workers at all levels and the substandard physical conditions of the campus are two of the more burning issues that the previous government failed to satisfactorily address. There has also been criticism of the research capacity of the university, and the failure to attract more top-flight faculty.
What is needed is a university with the capacity to meet the demands of a changing country, and a knowledge-based world. The university must be a nursery for the kind of skills needed in an oil-and-gas economy; it must graduate students with the capacity to cope, first and foremost, with the imperatives of our country and region. In other words, the university must be geared to play a vanguard role in training leaders in all areas of national endeavour. Towards this end, the accent on science education is necessary and welcome, but it must be complemented by rigorous humanity and social science curriculum.
The university must also be a leader in the major discourses about national and regional development; it must be the primary think-tank in the country. In the early days of its life, UG was a centre of discourses on the country’s socio-economic and political condition. This should be encouraged and revived; students should leave the institution as well-informed and well-rounded citizens.
We note the appointment of a new Chancellor at the university in the person of Professor Edward Greene; he brings to the position a wealth of experience and expertise in higher education and regional and international public service. He joins UG at a critical period in both the university’s and the country’s life. One hopes that his presence would engender new optimism at the institution, and move it in the direction envisaged in the president’s vision.
We are confident that the president’s initiative would go a long way towards facilitating the renewal of the University of Guyana; he has laid out the vision, and has shown that a government under his leadership would follow through on his promise. No other president in recent times has taken on the role of education with such commitment. Guyana will be the better for it.